Adam Taylor reports on the latest developments from the “new” Saudi Arabia of Mohammed bin Salman:

Prosecutors in Saudi Arabia are seeking the death penalty for five activists in the country’s Eastern Province, according to Saudi activists and Human Rights Watch. Among those being targeted is Israa al-Ghomgham, who Saudi groups say would be the first female human-rights activist to be put to death in the Saudi kingdom if the execution proceeds.

“Any execution is appalling, but seeking the death penalty for activists like Israa al-Ghomgham, who are not even accused of violent behavior, is monstrous,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Every day, the Saudi monarchy’s unrestrained despotism makes it harder for its public relations teams to spin the fairy tale of ‘reform’ to allies and international business.”

Seeking the death penalty for peaceful political activism is the mark of a cruel and brittle regime. The Saudi government has done far more in the last year to discredit the crown prince’s supposed “reformism” than any outside criticism could have done. Between the shakedown purge last fall and the crackdowns on domestic critics, Mohammed bin Salman had already demonstrated that he was much more interested in consolidating power and squelching opposition than he was in improving the conditions inside his country. In the last few years, Saudi Arabia has actually managed to become more repressive and authoritarian than it was before, and that trend has accelerated sharply since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince last year. Imposing the death penalty for peaceful criticism shows the world that the Saudi regime remains as brutal and regressive as ever, and if anything this news confirms that Saudi Arabia is going backwards under the crown prince’s de facto rule.

There are many other abusive authoritarian regimes in the world, but there aren’t many that receive the lavish political and military support of the United States that Saudi Arabia gets. To justify continuing that support, Saudi Arabia would have to be providing something of great value to the U.S., but it simply doesn’t. The reality is that the Saudis have become a liability for our government. Washington’s indulgence of their abuses has implicated the U.S. in terrible crimes. Increased Saudi repression at home and horrific abuses abroad have made the relationship with Riyadh far too costly for the U.S., and it is time for the U.S. to disentangle itself from one of its most reckless clients.